WRECK OF THE MALAKOFF
1 - THE HISTORY and THE TRAGIC SINKING OF THE MALAKOFF
of building berths East Yard, Newcastle upon Tyne
NORTHUMBERLAND SHIPBUILDING COMPANY LTD, was formed in 1898 at the
Howden yard, Newcastle Upon Tyne. Shortly afterwards Managing Director,
Rowland Hodge, undertook to build a standardized steamship of a design
to suit the requirements of the majority of ship owners. This was
a spar deck steamer of 372 feet (113.38m) overall length, by 48 feet
(14.63m) in width and with a molded depth of 30.8 feet (9.38m). It
was to carry 7300 tons deadweight (7417 Metric tones) and be capable
of 10 knots. There was to be spacious accommodation on the bridge
deck, water ballast within the cellular double bottom and an aft peak
tank. Loading and discharging gear was to be given special attention,
with the winches and derricks being steam driven. There was to be
considerable design flexibility beyond the hull design. While most
had a central engine room, the S.S. Mercedes had the engine room and
wheelhouse to the stern. This ship was built for the British Admiralty
for the purpose of carrying coal from New Zealand to the China fleet.
In 1906, "The Shipbuilder" reported that the yard had produced
the largest number of steamers ever built off one model; 46 ships
in total. The Malakoff was one of these ships.
MALAKOFF was originally named the Franconia. She was first registered
in April 1903, to the Franconia Steam Ship Company of Trieste
under an Austrian-Hungarian flag.
Capable of up to 10 knots, she was powered by a single triple
expansion steam engine of 3 cylinders, delivering 357 Nominal
Horse Power (2300 IHP), which was built by the North East Marine
Engine Company Ltd, also of Newcastle. Her dimensions were slightly
different to the original design, these being of 113.38 metres
in length (109.72m BP), 15.14 metres breadth and 8.56 metres
molded depth, with a gross tonnage of 4637, net tonnage of 3019
and a deadweight of 7417 tonnes. Her design included water ballast
of 822 tonnes within a cellular double bottom, an aft peak tank
of 63 tonnes and a complete set of steam driven winches and
Queen Cristina, is an example of the Company's standard 7300
ton steamer. This ship is the identical sister ship to the Malakoff,
except for one small detail; that the bridge deck on the Malakoff
was 96 feet in length (29m) whereas the Queen Cristina pictured
here during her sea trials in the year 1900, had a bridge deck
of 76 feet (23m), all other dimensions are identical.
ship USS Keresaspa was acquired by the US Navy and commissioned
on the 31 October 1918, under the command of Lt. Comdr. James
J. Boyce. Assigned to the Veterinary Corps Hospital No. 18 (NOTS).
in December 1928 (exact date still under investigation)
the Malakoff set sail from Antwerp in Belgium, on what was to
be her last trip. Bound for Madagascar initially and then onward
to Reunion island in the south western Indian Ocean, she was
carrying a mixed cargo consisting of bags of cement, pig iron,
ceramic tiles, rolls of copper wire, sewing machines, china
dinner services and the ship's owner's personal sailing yacht
She had a crew of 35, plus two passengers; Mrs Quemper, the
Captain's wife and Mrs Marette, the Chief Engineer's wife.
Now, at this point there is a mystery; from information gathered
to date, it is still unknown why the Malakoff was sailing northwards
towards Menorca. If her planned route was to sail from Antwerp
to Madagascar, then the Malakoff would have sailed through the
straits of Gibraltar and then along the North African coast,
directly towards the Suez Canal, and, in this case possibly
stopping in Gibraltar and later in Suez, which were major coal
So why was she sailing north towards Menorca into increasingly
bad weather; was she to make a last stop in France, perhaps
Marseille, to load or unload some cargo.
S.S. Mercedes had the engine room and wheelhouse to the stern.
This ship was built for the British Admiralty for the purpose
of carrying coal from New Zealand to the China fleet.
1917, she appears to have been acquired by the Kerr Navigation
Corporation of New York, USA and renamed the USS Keresaspa.
Shortly afterwards the cargo ship was acquired by the US Navy
and commissioned on the 31 October 1918, under the command of
Lt. Comdr. James J. Boyce.
Assigned to the Veterinary Corps Hospital No. 18 (NOTS), USS
Keresaspa departed New York on Thursday November 28 1918, with
a cargo of 400 horses and mules, together with miscellaneous
cargo, bound for France. During the passage, severe gales were
encountered resulting in the death of 53 animals and substantial
damage being made to the ship. Finally she discharged her cargo
at La Pallice, France, and returned to Baltimore on the 20 January
1919. Following repairs the USS Keresaspa was decommissioned
on the 11 February 1919 and returned to her owners.
At this point there seems to be a difference as to who owned
the ship. According to the Lloyd's Register of Shipping in London
she was owned by the American Shipping and Commercial Navigation
Corporation (United American Lines Inc.) of New York, as from
1917, however according to the Hungarian Ship Register, this
company did not aquire her until 1921.
Later in 1921, she was then sold to the Oceana Sea Navigation
Company Ltd of Budapest, Hungary and renamed the Pannonia.
changing owners yet again and for the last time, she was now
the property of the Societe Auxiliaire des Chargeurs Francais,
of 31 Rue Mogador, Paris 9eme and was renamed the Malakoff
with her port of registry becoming Rouen in northern France.
At this point the ship underwent certain modernization work
resulting in a slight increase in her original weights.
For the next few years she appears to have been assigned to
carrying cargo to and from the distant French Colonies; from
Martinique and Guadeloupe in the Caribbean, to French Polynesia
in the south Pacific, navigating all the world's oceans without
owned by the Oceana Sea Navigation Company Ltd of Budapest,
Hungary, 1921 to 1926.
research so far, time and time again the only information to come
to light, is that she sank off Menorca whilst on a passage from
Antwerp to Madagascar; some 140 miles off course.
11.45 AM, JANUARY 2nd 1929
the passengers disembarked the Steamship Monte Toro, their bitter
disappointment showed on their faces. They had boarded the ferry
bound for Palma de Mallorca, together with many excited young children,
where they were to celebrate with family and friends, the fiesta
of 'Los Reyes' on January the 6th, this the most important day for
children all over Spain.
Holding onto their hats and tugging at umbrellas, as the icy cold
gusts of wind drove the rain down in great swirling sheets, almost
horizontally, the men and women gathered in small separate groups
as they hurried towards the ferry terminal, the chatter becoming
ever louder as their frustration turned to anger.
Soon the quayside would be empty, as yet another tremendously heavy
hail shower lashed across the harbour as thunder crashed overhead;
weather conditions for which the ferry crossing had inevitably been
ordered not to sail, by the 'Comandante de la Marina'
The official weather report by the newspaper 'Voz de Menorca' for
that day was 'strong northwesterly gale, with heavy hail showers
leaving a cover on the ground, maximum temperature 9º celcius.
On that same day Cannes weather station in southern France, reported
the storm as being the worse in living memory.
DARTUCH LIGHTHOUSE, 22.15 pm
at the extreme tip of the south western corner of the island, only
a hundred metres or so from the waters edge, this lighthouse is
possibly the most exposed of all the lighthouses on Menorca.
As the lighthouse keepers, Gabriel Pons and Juan Clar began an extra
precautionary check of the correct functioning of the lighting and
gas system that powered it, they need not have been reminded of
this factor; it was an atrocious night, with the north westerly
driven waves thundering up across the rocks, right to the edge of
the building itself. Up at the top of the lighthouse tower, it was
normal procedure to scan the horizon with the old rudimentary binoculars,
in order to observe anything unusual, but on this night there was
no question of going outside onto the observation terrace; the wind
was howling and whining with an extraordinary intensity, driving
sheets of rain and sea spray spiraling around the tower.
The two men returned to the ground floor living quarters, uncertain
that all was well, to begin the night shifts.
EAST SOUTHEAST OF CABO DARTUCH LIGHTHOUSE 22.25 pm
hours had seemed like days for the very tired crew on watch aboard
the cargo steamer Malakoff, as the weather conditions had hour after
hour, gradually deteriorated. The large ship rolled and creaked
in the heavy seas, frequently shuddering as huge swells slammed
into and over her bow. As the Helmsman made constant corrections
to the course against the waves and currents, he had ordered the
engineers to reduce speed to ease the stress on the ship's structures.
The two men now in the wheelhouse, desperately tried to scan the
darkness for any glimpse of the Cabo Dartuch lighthouse, to which
they should soon pass some 2 or 3 kilometres to the west. It was
an impossible task, as under the circumstances all that could be
seen were clouds of white spume, driving up from over the bow and
across the foredeck.
OF MENORCA'S THREE WORSE SHIPPING ACCIDENTS.
to the crew, on that foul wintry night, the ship had steadily drifted
off her intended course.
At 22.35 on January 2nd 1929, the Malakoff slammed head on into
a rock known as the 'Escull d'es Governador', only a few metres
west of Cala Tale beach and some 6.5 Km east of Cabo Dartuch lighthouse,
tearing her bow wide open.
The immense shock had thrown the two men on watch from one end of
the wheelhouse to the other.
As they collected themselves together, badly bruised, Captain Quemper
who had also been thrown out of bed, came up to the wheelhouse demanding
to know what had happened. Believing that they had hit another ship
he immediately ordered the ship into reverse, meanwhile, two seamen
had been sent to inspect the bow. Horrified at the damage and amount
of water flooding into the forward hold, they ran back to report
to the Captain.
Realizing that the ship was lost, Captain Quemper gave the order
to release two lifeboats and abandon ship.
It is believed that a total of 29 persons had managed to climb aboard
the two lifeboats; 23 crewmembers plus Mrs Quemper and Mrs Marette
aboard one boat and 4 crewmembers in the other, this including the
2nd Engineer, the two Firemen and a Madagascan seaman named Manqua.
slammed head on into this rock, known as the 'Escull d'es Governador',
only a few metres west of Cala Tale beach and some 6.5 Km east of
Cabo Dartuch lighthouse, tearing her bow wide open.
the Captain and Chief Engineer had remained on board the Malakoff,
whilst six other crew, who had been attempting to release the sailing
yacht that was on deck, had to jump into the sea and swim for their
lives, as they suddenly realized how quickly the ship was sinking.
Moments later, only 7 minutes after the impact, the Malakoff disappeared
into the turbulent black sea creating thunderous noises and great
plumes of spray as the boilers came into contact with the icy cold
Twenty seven persons lost their lives instantly, this including
the Captain and the Chief Engineer who were still aboard the ship
and 23 crewmembers together with the two women who were on one of
the lifeboats, this lifeboat apparently having been sucked underwater
by the ensuing whirlpool.
Some distance away, with their lifeboat being far enough away not
to be taken down by the whirlpool, the 2nd Engineer, the two Firemen
and Manqua, had however been thrown into the sea by a freak wave,
perhaps caused by the sinking.
Miraculously they were to survive this, as after ten or so terrifying
minutes in the mountainous seas, the four men came across the sailing
yacht that somehow had remained afloat, into which, exhausted, they
managed to climb aboard.
Now they were at the mercy of the winds and the currents, since
they had no way of navigating; this yacht which had been partially
dismantled for the journey was in effect only a hull. After some
days, Manqua who had become very weak, lost consciousness and was
washed overboard by another freak wave. The remaining three, were
finally picked up near to the Isla del Aire by the 3200 tonne passenger
steamer Ville de Paris, owned by the same company. They had spent
6 days and nights at sea and were close to death.
Meanwhile, the other six men including the First Officer Mr Felix
Priquer, had swam against all odds for over an hour before encountering
an upturned lifeboat, which to their horror had a number of bodies
beneath it. Freezing cold and hardly conscious they clung to its
keel until two in the morning, when they came across the other lifeboat.
This one was full of water, however it as upright and by incredible
luck the oars were still in place.
Almost dying of exposure, the six men now painfully took turns at
rowing the brilliant flashes of the lighthouse.
It is interesting
to note that during the research into this story, a conversation
with Gabriel Pons of Ciudadela, the lighthouse keeper's son, who
remembered seeing the lifeboats even though he was only 13 years
of age at the time, revealed that they were of a very advanced design
in that they contained air chambers in order to make them unsinkable.
However, it seemed that the loss of life may have occurred as a
result of the lifeboat having not been untied from the Malakoff,
rather than being sucked down by a whirlpool. They had found a shredded
towline which had seemingly snapped under great pressure, as if
the lifeboat had been dragged down by the sinking ship.
It was around
five in the morning when the lighthouse keepers Gabriel Pons and
Juan Clar thought they had heard shouting, but, on looking around
they saw nothing. Half an hour later, after hearing more shouting,
they went outside to take a closer look and to their great surprise
they found the lifeboat with its poor occupants, buffeting around
in the small bay just below the east side of the lighthouse. Immediately
they fetched a rope, and after serious difficulties due to the large
swells, they managed to bring the men up to safety.
bay just below the east side of the lighthouse, from where the six
men were rescued by the lighthouse keepers.
Pons, is the son of the former lighthouse keeper of the same name.
Although he was only 13 years old at the time of the tragedy, he
remembers the event very well.
He is pictured here outside his home in Ciudadela, with his wife
Trini and their three great grandchildren.
no telephones in those days, Juan Clar set out for Ciudadela to
report the accident to the 'Comandancia de la Marina' and to Jose
Mir, the French Consular agent. There were no roads to the lighthouse
making this a difficult trip. First Juan Clar had to walk more than
a kilometre through muddy fields to the nearest farmhouse; Son Olivar,
from where, together with the farmer, he would continue to Ciudadela
along very rough tracks by horse and cart.
Once the alarm had been raised, the 'Ayudante de la Marina', the
Consular agent and many volunteers proceeded with great haste to
the lighthouse, together with dry cloths, blankets and medicines.
The survivors were later transferred to the Son Olivar farmhouse,
where they would recover enough before being repatriated on the
6th of January.
Some days later, on arrival in Marseille, the second Engineer who
had been one of the survivors to have been rescued close to the
Isla del Aire, mentioned that the cause of the accident was due
to the Cabo Dartuch lighthouse being unlit that night. The national
press was quick to jump on this story and after sending telegraphs
to Barcelona and Madrid, the terrible lie was published all across
France and Spain, together with the 'Voz de Menorca' of Ciudadela.
Upon reading this, the lighthouse keepers were devastated; it was
totally untrue, how could the crew of the Malakoff make such an
On the 15th of January, Gabriel Pons and Juan Clar published an
article in the 'Voz de Menorca' vehemently denying such accusations,
stating that the lighthouse had been functioning correctly and that
due to the terrible weather conditions on that night, extra checks
had been made. They added to this, the fact that the six survivors
could testify to this, as they had found their way to their salvation
by the light of the Dartuch lighthouse.
Some days later,
the French Information Agency ' Fabra & Havas' sent a telegraph
to 'All stations'; It read: The Agency regrets that it has previously
published false information with regard to the sinking of the Malakoff.
The accident occurred due to a navigational error and not as previously
stated, due to the Cabo Dartuch lighthouse of Menorca being non
functional. The keepers of said lighthouse acted with the greatest
of bravery during the rescue operation, and are to be highly honoured.